Christmas-Lovers Need to Add These 15 Cities to Their Holiday Travel List
The Christmas season is a magical time of year, no matter to what city your travels may take you. As a traveler, you've probably already come up with your favorite holiday gift wish lists for jet-setters, but now it's time to explore. And while, yes, features such as trees and lights can be found just about anywhere, there are some cities that take their seasonal celebrations to the next level. If you really love Christmas, these are the cities you'll want to include in your travels this holiday.
Branson is known for its shows, and many transform for the holiday season. One classic show is at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center and Theatre. His name is synonymous with Christmas specials in the 1960s and 1970s, and he's responsible for many of the Christmas classics sung today. He died a few years ago, but Jimmy Osmond (youngest brother of Donnie and Marie) now owns the theater and carries on the Christmas traditions.
Silver Dollar City, the town's theme park, decks out for the holidays. It also has two major Christmas shows — spins on A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life — plus a cooking school that does holiday classes, several restaurants with special holiday offerings (turkey dinners, pot roast), and 100 local craftsmen producing special holiday items in everything from pottery shops to a glassblowing studio.
This town is home to the World's Largest Toy Museum. It's not specific to Christmas, but it's a fun (indoor, in case the weather turns cold) place for folks to wander around for a little while and get nostalgic. Imagine any toy you wanted to find under the tree when you were little, and it's a pretty sure bet that it'll be on display.
At the College of the Ozarks, nicknamed "Hard Work U," the kids pay for their education by working at jobs around the college. Twenty-five of the 1,500 students run the bakery and jelly kitchen, where they produce thousands of fruitcakes and ship them all over the country at this time of year. Those searching for the best stocking stuffers will end up at Dick's 5 and 10, which bills itself as "Stocking Stuffer Headquarters." There's not much you can't find at this place, which is sort of the Amazon of Main Street. It's one of the last surviving, truly legit five-and-dimes anywhere in the US. (There are maybe 10 others around the country.)
Santa Fe, NM
With traditions like farolitos, Las Posadas, biscochitos, and tamales smothered in red chile, Christmas-lovers need to add a visit to these one-of-a-kind holiday experiences found in Santa Fe, NM, to their holiday travel list.
Santa Fe celebrates the holiday season like no other city in the world. The city's storied history of bringing together local culture, Spanish Colonial heritage, and the Old West pioneer spirit makes for a deeply rich yuletide celebration. For those lucky to have a white Christmas in Santa Fe, the iconic adobe buildings take on the appearance of life-size gingerbread houses with a layer of snow "frosting" the roofs and ledges. In December, the Christmas spirit is everywhere from the snow-topped mountains and slopes of Ski Santa Fe to the unbelievable hot chocolate in the shops along The Chocolate Trail. Santa Fe, which means "Holy Faith," welcomes visitors of all faiths to celebrate the season with a cornucopia of unique traditions and celebrations of food, song, dance, and graceful light displays from the city's centuries of warm community spirit, diverse history, and culture.
The historic plaza is decked with lights beginning at the tree lighting ceremony on Friday, Nov. 24. Rooflines and fences of many adobe buildings around the city will be lined with "farolitos" (paper sacks filled with sand and a small votive candle — called "luminarias" in other parts of the Southwest but not in Santa Fe). One of the most popular holiday events in Santa Fe is the Christmas Eve Farolito Walk on Canyon Road, where thousands of people walk this famous road decorated with hundreds of farolitos and sounds of caroling fill the air.
As the official "Christmas Capital of North Dakota," Garrison hosts the Dickens Village Festival, an enchanting experience for families yearning for a magical Christmas celebration. The Dickens Festival is a Victorian-era experience inspired by Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Garrison transforms from a quaint town of 1,500 into an idyllic village fit for all ages. Guests can partake in craft shows and contests, savor food from street vendors, and watch in awe during the lighted Main Street parade at dusk.
The most beloved attractions of all, however, are riding the Queen Elizabus and tossing fruitcakes at the annual fruitcake toss. The Queen Elizabus is an authentic double-decker bus straight from England — fixed up and redecorated, of course. Guests can enjoy the magical streets of Garrison during the lighted parade while listening to Christmas carolers singing holiday hymns. If guests are looking for more of a challenge, the fruitcake toss is sure to be the perfect fit and has become a favorite of all ages. The rules of the toss are simple: the longest toss wins a prize. This year, the total prize money is more than $800!
Santa Claus, IN
The town of Santa Claus is home to the only post office in the world with Santa's name. Each year, this small but famous post office offers a special holiday postmark, designed by a local high school student, in December only. In addition, more than 13,000 letters written to Santa flood the town and are all answered by a group of volunteers called "Santa's Elves." Families can visit the original Santa Claus Post Office (and write a letter on site!) or pose in front of a 22-foot-tall Santa statue at the Santa Claus Museum and Village.
The historic Santa's Candy Castle hosts the centuries-old tradition of roasting chestnuts on an open fire throughout the holiday season and offers gourmet hot chocolate in more than 25 flavors. The Santa Claus Land of Lights features 1.2 miles of giant light displays telling the shining story of Rudolph. Other activities and events during Christmas include Christmas Dinner with Santa at Santa's Lodge, a Brew Ho Ho, Dancer's Dash 5K, the Santa Claus Christmas Parade, and more. Visitors can experience a festive weekend in the town of Santa Claus with a Christmas package at holiday-themed lodging such as Santa's Lakeside Cottages, Rudolph's Christmas Cabins at Lake Rudolph Campground and RV Resort, and Santa's Lodge.
Philadelphia has everything that makes it a top-notch choice for holiday travelers: one of the largest Christmas markets in the country, a giant 30-foot tree, a Made in Philadelphia pop-up market surrounding City Hall, a Christmas Carousel, Franklin Square Light Show, Christmas on the waterfront, and Historic Holiday Nights in America's most historic square mile (Old City District). Millions flock to Philly for these attractions and to take in the historic and iconic sites during the month of December. Add in the award-winning food scene and pop-up food markets within the holiday markets, and there's something for everyone.
Christmas Village in Philadelphia, which attracts more than 750,000 people from around the country every year, makes a return this year to the iconic LOVE Park. Christmas Village organizers also work with the Center City District to host the Made in Philadelphia Market, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people to City Hall and Dilworth Park — that also has vendors, gifts, an ice skating rink, entertainment, and more.
In the courtyard of City Hall, the Christmas Village will bring back the Christmas Village Carousel, and nearby, on the north apron of City Hall, the City of Philadelphia will host its giant Christmas tree. Together, Christmas Village at Philadelphia, City Hall Courtyard, and Made in Philadelphia Market could attract upward of two million visitors this year.
Seneca Falls, NY
Was the Upstate New York village of Seneca Falls Frank Capra's inspiration for the design of Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life? Physical similarities between Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls are striking. Seneca Falls's town leaders are so sure it served as Capra's inspiration that they have created It's A Wonderful Life . . . well, everything!
With a museum, festival, and stores selling souvenirs, it's a mecca for those who love the Christmas tale. The festival runs from Dec. 8-10, and what you'll find is the downtown will be decorated with replicas of the Christmas lights of Bedford Falls and the shops and restaurants will serve up It's a Wonderful Life fare.
In Southern gem Nashville, Christmas-lovers will be greeted with Southern hospitality, twinkling light festivals, Christmas songs (with a country twist!), and a glass of whiskey-spiked eggnog. Cheekwood Holiday Lights is an extraordinary 1930s estate that turns into a magnificent holiday lights festival featuring one million lights illuminating the gardens for the prettiest stroll of the season. Enjoy Southern-style hot toddies as you walk the magnificent lit gardens and pop into the historic mansion for festive carolers and a massive poinsettia tree. The magic of Christmas comes to Gaylord Opryland Resort with Gaylord Opryland's A Country Christmas, an unforgettable indoor and outdoor lights displays, an ice skating rink, snow-tubing, and the Cirque Dreams Holidaze show all on the Opryland resort properties.
Christmas at the Ryman features country music sensations Amy Grant and Vince Gill's return to the Mother Church of Country, the famous Ryman Auditorium. The beloved country couple perform country-style Christmas classics attracting fans far and wide. Stick around for Jack Daniel's Music City Midnight: New Year's Eve in Nashville, the free and open-to-the-public NYE celebration. This year's headliner is Keith Urban, and there will be performances by Maren Morris, Cheap Trick, Jonny P, Carly Pearce, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
No one does a holiday like Vegas, and this year's festivities are going to be incredible: massive gingerbread villages at the Four Seasons, Bellagio's mesmerizing holiday conservatory display, and there's word that they're transforming The Park into a Winter wonderland.
At Gingerbread Village at the Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, celebrated pastry chef Jean-Luc Daul will unveil his 19th gingerbread village in the lobby of the AAA Five Diamond Four Seasons Las Vegas this Winter. The village will be reminiscent of the Christmas markets across Europe, inspired by chef Daul's experience crafting gingerbread displays around the world. With 200 pounds of sugar, more than 25 pounds of chocolate, and 60 pounds of icing fondant, the village is sure to be a spectacle during this year's holiday season.
Santa Claus trades in his sleigh for scuba gear each year at Shark Reef Aquarium for "Santa in the Shipwreck," located at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Santa can be seen diving with more than 2,000 aquatic pals (including green sea turtles and zebra sharks) on select weekends in December. Shark Reef Aquarium shines bright for the holidays with festive decorations and a station where children can whisper their wishes to Santa in between his dives.
In early December, Bellagio Resort and Casino's Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will unveil its most anticipated display of the year: the holiday installation. The sights of the season will take over the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens as thousands upon thousands of fresh, fragrant flowers (including poinsettias) are shaped into festive displays and intertwined with twinkling lights.
Santas are coming back to town as Las Vegas's favorite charity, Opportunity Village, will host its 13th annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run in Downtown Las Vegas. This event has become the largest gathering of Santa-clad runners in the world and will kick off on Dec. 2 for locals and visitors alike. The Great Santa Run raises funds and awareness for Opportunity Village's ongoing programs and services. This allows unparalleled opportunities to enhance and support more than 2,000 Southern Nevada residents with intellectual disabilities and the families who love them. Registration is available on the Great Santa Run website.
Located 60 minutes north of Philadelphia and 90 minutes west of New York City, Lehigh Valley, PA, is home to Historic Bethlehem. The true hub of holiday magic, Christkindlmarkt is a European-style holiday market that showcases aisles of exquisite handmade works by the nation's finest artisans, the heartwarming sounds of live Christmas music, delicious food, and more! In fact, the event has grown steadily and is now considered one of the premier holiday attractions in the Northeastern United States. Take in the charm of Bethlehem during the holiday season as you ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the city's historic district. The Bethlehem Carriage Company offers a number of options for couples or small groups. Or step back into the 1920s with a stay at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem, where you can admire its stunning holiday decorations, grab a festive cocktail at the Tap Room bar, or enjoy its famous Sunday Musical Brunch.
New York City
New York City radiates holiday spirit with decorated windows, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and snow-covered trees in Central Park. "Leave it to New Yorkers to take a centuries-old tradition and make it completely their own. The holiday shops at the annual Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park may be inspired by European markets, but the result is unmistakably New York. In addition to the popular open-air market, the Winter Village is home to top-notch casual fare, entertainment, and a world-famous ice skating rink," said Katryna Balboni, senior editor at TravelPirates. Nearby, stay at The Chatwal, a Luxury Collection Hotel, for a combination of luxury and holiday spirit. Central Park is home in the Winter to two ice skating rinks — Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink — and for some adventure in the park, sledding is available at Pilgrim Hill, which has the steepest slopes.
For a more downtown feel, located in the heart of lower Manhattan, New York's iconic Conrad New York celebrates the season in style with elaborate decor, special holiday menus, and even romantic pedicab rides.
There are a lot of reasons someone would want to spend the holidays in LA, especially as Disneyland improves its holiday features each year. Universal Citywalk, with its nightly snowfall, concerts, parades, and outdoor skating rink, is beautiful as well. But there's also that drive down Christmas Tree Lane (found in Altadena) or Pershing Square, which is an outdoor ice rink and perfect Instagram spot. The Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall celebrates the sounds of the holidays with its annual Deck the Halls series of concerts, and the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens has a Reindeer Romp during the day and Zoo Lights Extravaganza at night.
As for where to stay, W Los Angeles — West Beverly Hills is heating up the holidays this year by surprising guests with its Sip N Lift Cocktail Caddy. Upon stepping into the elevator up to your room, there's a personal bartender serving The Living Room Bar's Mistletoe Muse cocktail from a sleek and stylish cocktail caddy. The beverage holds hints of fresh pomegranate, Champagne, and a sprig of rosemary. How festive is that?
What makes Kentucky one of the most fun holiday destinations in America? It's the huge number of seasonal events and attractions going on every week in Louisville. Christmas and holiday festivals, concerts, parties, and other events bring joy to all and make for a more memorable holiday season and a fun destination for festive family Christmas getaways.
Visit the favorite distillery for the Maker's Mark Candlelight Tours, which feature lights and holiday decor, seasonal cocktails, and sweet treats, or head to the official tree lighting at Light Up Bardstown. Dive deep into Louisville's Mega Cavern that is transformed into an underground holiday light spectacular for Christmas, with 30-minute rides through 17 miles of underground passageways, dressed in more than two million points of light — it's the only underground light show of its kind in the United States.
And don't finish your Christmas visit without visiting the nationally acclaimed Latin-American restaurant Seviche, led by head chef Anthony Lamas (you may recognize him from winning Extreme Chef or Beat Bobby Flay, as well as appearances on Bar Rescue), that will be showcasing unique, modern takes on classic holiday dishes.
True Christmas-lovers know that it's not really Christmas unless it's cold. Chicago certainly delivers on that front. "Inspired by the centuries-old festivities held at Nuremberg each year, Chicago's annual Christkindlmarket is a lively take on the beloved German Christmas market. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the Christkindlmarket features traditional German crafts (perfect for bulking up your cuckoo clock collection), food, and drink — and yes, that includes glühwein," said Katryna Balboni, senior editor at TravelPirates.
A few other holiday events include the ZooLights display and caroling at Cloud Gate. The Windy City should be considered the North Pole of the United States, and not just because temperatures reach below zero. Instead, the city boasts a magical few months of Winter festivities, holiday markets, seasonal culinary delicacies, and so much more. Whisk yourself away into the magical snowfall with pictures and caroling at the beloved Bean (Cloud Gate) or ice skate at the Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon or at the McCormick Tribune Ice Rink, all in Millennium Park.
Let's not forget the wonderfully decorated buildings along State Street (make sure to take the family to Macy's Walnut Room for the 45-foot-tall Christmas tree) and Michigan Avenue, and the magical food you'll indulge in, too. From warming cocktails and live music at Bassment to mouthwatering bites at Eden, topped off with a holiday beignet tree from Steak48, Christmas in Chicago is one of the top go-to destinations to celebrate the holidays.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago Downtown Magnificent Mile is situated in the heart of downtown Chicago just steps away from one of the country's most famous shopping districts — the Magnificent Mile. Through the Christmas Suite package, guests can stay in one of the hotel's four Christmas-themed rooms decked out with trees, lights, stockings, and a themed amenity each night (i.e., hot chocolate, Christmas cookies, etc.).
For a holiday getaway retreat that celebrates all things Americana, escape to a city that is transformed into a real-life Charles Dickens scene every December. With a storied past and culturally diverse present, the Holy City's angelic cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, and pre-Civil-War-era architecture are covered with the ambience of Christmas circa 1828 (when Charlestonian Joel Roberts Poinsett discovered the poinsettia flower).
On weekends during the holidays, popular streets are shut off from cars, allowing visitors to experience the city by foot and carriage like Charlestonians of an era gone by. HarbourView Inn is Charleston's only waterfront property located in the Historic District; guests visiting during the holidays will be welcomed by a lobby transformed into an old Southern living room complete with tinsel, garland, a glimmering Christmas tree, and a gingerbread house replica of the hotel. Handmade peppermint truffles crafted locally by Christophe Artisan Chocolatier are delivered to fully decorated rooms for nightly turndown, while live Christmas carolers and Santa Claus make an appearance on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for a truly magical holiday vacation.
French Quarter Inn's old-world charm meets authentic Southern hospitality means a majestic, sparkling tree and grand staircase adorned with tinsel and ribbons welcome guests to celebrate the season. Guests can enjoy complimentary seasonal amenities including warm Christmas cookies, bourbon-spiced eggnog, hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and classic holiday movie screenings in the hotel's meeting spaces. The hotel delivers gifts to all guest rooms on Christmas Eve as guests and their families enjoy a meet-and-greet with Santa, who leads a special reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas. Christmas carolers donning authentic colonial garb also stop by on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to sing classic holiday melodies in the lobby.
December in New Orleans brings Christmas, New Orleans style — a month of holiday celebrations that include light displays, festivals, concerts, and more. Enjoy light displays across 25 acres of New Orleans City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, during Celebration in the Oaks (opening Nov. 24). City Park's famous oaks are swathed in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights, and breathtaking light displays are scattered throughout the park, including the Botanical Garden, Storyland, and Carousel Gardens Amusement Park.
The NOLA ChristmasFest takes over the New Orleans Convention Center for 10 days during December (Dec. 21-31), featuring the only ice skating rink in NOLA, carnival rides, holiday events, and more.
In Creole tradition, restaurants across the city present Réveillon dinners during the month of December, with modern takes on the traditional 19th century holiday feasts. Restaurants have also added a cocktail component to the dinners, serving up holiday-themed cocktails during the season. But there's so much more: Holiday gingerbread displays in hotels throughout New Orleans are unlike any other. From life-size Christmas trees with edible ornaments to decorated gingerbread houses and 16-foot-tall replicas of St. Louis Cathedral, you never know what over-the-top gingerbread creations are in store, but the spicy, sweet smell will certainly put you in the Christmas spirit.
For the past two years, The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, has been selected by CNN as a part of the top 10 hotels worldwide for the holidays. The block-long lobby of the hotel will be adorned in holiday decor and serve as the headquarters for everything happy about the holidays. The Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the hotel will officially kick off the season by turning on its lobby lights and decor. Already famous for its Teddy Bear Tea, the hotel now also serves the traditional Réveillon meal, typically served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, each weekday for guests to enjoy. The dinner will feature a specialized holiday menu with wine pairings.